Surgery Creates 'Shortcut' to Recover Penile Erection in Patients

Unesp doctors created a bridge between two nerves of the legs

Reinaldo José Lopes
São Carlos (SP)

Doctors at São Paulo state university in Botucatu developed a surgical method to help patients without a prostate to regain their ability to have penile erections. In general, these patients have suffered from prostate cancer and had to have it removed.

In this method, doctors rewire the nerves responsible for penile sensitivity. The technique has been already tested in 63 patients from Brazil and Europe. About 60% completely recuperated their sexual functions, while the rest improved their sensibility and ability to be excited.

Medical illustration shows erectile dysfunction - Manu5/Wikimedia Commons

"We were able to do a non-invasive procedure, with incisions only centimeters long, and a quick recuperation from one week to ten days," said plastic surgeon Fausto Viterbo, the research team coordinator.

A "bridge" designed by surgeons connects two sensory nerves (that is, responsible for transmitting sensations, such as the touch) of the legs.

Doctors take a nerve, divide it in half and sew the two into the femoral nerve in the thigh, and the nerve of the penis (see infographic).

The penis usually works by way of the cavernous nerve, which fails to work without a prostate. So by connecting the penis organ with the rest of the nervous system, it can recuperate. "Previous attempts to achieve this result focused on the cavernous nerve itself, which did not work," explained the plastic surgeon.

Thanks to the plasticity of the nerves and brain, the patient can return to normal.

Fernando (Fictitious name), 64, married and father of three children, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009. After undergoing surgery to take out his prostate, UNESP doctors performed the new procedure on him, and he managed to regain sexual life after a year. "My self-esteem has gone up a lot, and you become a new person," he said.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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